The downside of extractive industries in the Solomon Islands

Logging operation in the Solomon Islands Photo: Natural resource development foundation (NRDF)

By: Lowen Sei

The extractive industry is the Solomon Island’s economic backbone, particularly Logging and Fisheries.

While it brings satisfactory financial backing at the national level, down at the village level, an issue that has been existent since logging was introduced in the country is happening right before the people’s eyes.

In 2015, Save the Children conducted initial baseline assessments in 500 households of children at risk of exploitation where logging and fishing industries are active.

The study was taken in most parts of the country where logging is existent, and they discovered that issues such as child labour, child marriage, informal adoption and sexual abuse of children are interconnected.

The majority of these children are being married to loggers at a very young age, most of them between the ages of 13 to 17.

Countless stories are being told of how underage girls from the rural areas in the Solomon’s are being lured into logging camps operated mostly by Asians, and used for commercial sexual exploitation.

Sister Doreen Awaiasi, who runs the Christian Care Centre, and is a prominent advocate for women’s right in the Solomon Islands, spoke of the startling number of cases that she had dealt with over the years.

“There was this case we had some years back where a girl approached us for help, at that time she was 13 years old, she told us that she was forced by her parents to marry an Asian logger,” she said.

“At that time she was in high school, she told us that she had future plans in her education but her parents told her that their family will be financially secure if she marries the Asian.”

This is just one of the many cases that are happening across the logging camps of the country.

Most people in the country know about this, but tend to turn a blind eye to it, and not taking this issue seriously.

Girls as young as 12 years old are being enticed with cash in exchange for sex, which most ends up being pregnant, leaving school, and their husbands leaving them when the logging operations are finished.

“Many girls whom we investigated reported that the Asians lured them to the logging camps with slippers, combs, and mostly cash.” Sister Doreen said.

“I think girls are too young to understand the consequences of this type of issue, they are there just entirely there for financial favour, and in some cases parents also allow their daughter to be married of to the loggers.

In similar response, Lynffer Maltungtung, from Family Support Centre in Honiara, says that this is a serious issue that is not taken seriously and given attention in the Solomon Islands.

“Yes it is a big problem for the Solomon Islands, it happening before our eyes but people are very reluctant to take a stand and put an end to this,”

“There are three forms of trafficking in the country; they are child trafficking, labour exploitation, and commercial sexual abuse, this mostly happens in the logging camps.” She said.

She said that her organization has been looking at this issue since 2012, with the training of legal officers and police officers to provide legal assistance to victims of this matter.

They have also gathered some anecdotal information into the inner workings of this issue, and have dealt with a number of cases involving underage girls being married off to loggers.

“In some of the cases we intervened and retrieved the girls, for example there was this case of a parent who approached asking us for help, the parent told us that her daughter followed an fishing vessel,” She said.

“So we quickly searched for the boat and we located it in Temotu province, so we were able to get that girl out, the girl went on consent, but what we were worried about is that she was too young.”

She said that the one of the things that they noticed was that most of the girls went on consent, and had relationships with the foreigners.

Both sister Doreeen, and Maltungtung said that money plays game, that most girls are tricked for the money.

Another major factor that fuels this issue is the underlying level of underdevelopment in the rural areas.

Sister Doreen said that they did a survey in 2007 and found that is happening is largely because of underdevelopment, and poverty in the rural areas, which easily lures girls into logging camps.

She also went on further to mention that in these scenarios, parents tend to use their child as a commodity.

“I think it’s hard for the government or responsible authorities to address this issue quickly because some of them are also involved or are good friends with the logging companies, they are the doorman,” she said.

“I believe to address this issue, it’s not only the government’s job, but all Solomon islanders must recognize and deal with this issue, church leaders and community leaders or chiefs must also look at this issue with serious consideration.”

Both Sister Doreen, and Maltungtung said that this issue must be taken seriously as most girls are continuously fallen victim to the inception of loggers into the community, and both have also called for the ban of logging completely to stop this problem.